Think globally, act locally: Shiseido

Jean-Philippe Charrier, president of Shiseido Asia Pacific, shares essential marketing insights into the beauty and cosmetics industry in the region, and why Singapore is ideally placed to be a regional cosmetics hub. Q. What are the key beauty trends in the region that cosmetics companies should be keeping an eye on? One big beauty trend is that Asian products, whether from Korea or Japan, are popular now. When I started in this industry over 20 years ago, I was selling French products that were popular because Asian consumers followed Western trends. Now the majority of Asian consumers tend to prefer Asian products. Within the industry, there is a better understanding of what suits Asian consumers in terms of texture, scents, tones and colours; there is more consciousness that Asian beauty is different from Western beauty, which I think is a good thing. Consumers are more self-aware about how they can enhance their own beauty, and they also know that Asian brands have the expertise to help them achieve this. Q. What marketing insights can you offer on the beauty industry in Asia? What factors should be considered when marketing cosmetics in this region? The beauty products that are consumed in Asia are very different from elsewhere in the world and this demands regional and localised marketing. For instance, Shiseido developed the Vital-Perfection skincare range to target sallow skin with yellow undertones, which is a common problem faced by Asian women. This range is sold only in Asia.  Other than targeting sallow skin, Vital-Perfection also offers both lifting and whitening benefits, two benefits that top the list of Asian women’s skincare needs Further, the beauty products that are consumed in each Asian country are very different as well as beauty is linked with different factors in the everyday life of consumers. This diversity will decide how you market across the different countries. One factor is the climate: North Asia has four seasons and long winters while Southeast Asia is hot and humid. This totally changes what a consumer uses when it comes to skincare, with Southeast Asian consumers preferring lighter textures and North Asian consumers using richer formulations and layer on products. So, we’ll introduce different products in different countries. Another factor is ethnicity. In North Asia, consumers tend to have fair skin, while in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, the range of complexions is much wider. Skin colour will then influence the tone of makeup used. Shiseido is a brand that has foundations in a wide range of shades and undertones. Shiseido Makeup Synchro Skin Lasting Liquid Foundation offers 16 different shades to satisfy a wider range of skin tones, and different countries may then launch selected shades to best cater to women in the region. Culture and religion also play a role. For example, Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim market, and Indonesians have to wash their face five times a day before praying so the makeup and skincare products they use are very different from what others use. In Malaysia, the Chinese and Malay population tend to consume more fragrance, similar to the Middle Eastern market. In terms of beauty products consumption, the culture and religious background need to be understood so we may introduce appropriate products to each region. Q. What makes the regional cosmetics market unique? What’s unique is that Asian markets are not completely mature yet hence there is huge potential when compared to Europe. Some of the markets that are relatively young in terms of population include Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines. These will continue to grow dramatically in the future; that’s exciting. Also, consumers in the region are very interested in beauty. In some countries, it is part of their basic education to use beauty products, and people are very sophisticated when it comes to beauty products usage. For example, South Korea is the most sophisticated market in terms of the number of products used by women. It is amazing! This offers different marketing opportunities compared to Europe. Combined with the strong growth potential, conquering the Asian markets is a very big adventure for cosmetic companies. Q. Are Singapore’s beauty consumers reflective of beauty consumers in the region? The demographics of Singapore’s consumers are very diverse, as we need to consider not just the residents but the tourists as well. Singapore has a population of five million, but three times more tourists at 15 million! So for me, Singapore is not only about the local consumers but also the regional influence at the same time. Many tourists shop at our counters at Changi Airport, making Singapore an interesting market to explore what makes consumers tick. The idea, thus, is to use Singapore to create a window into Asia, in terms of what needs to be done at a regional level. I would love to have our brand’s flagships here and use Singapore as an experimental ground for Asia, implementing best practices to influence the regional market. However, this is going to take a bit of time. Take the example of Sephora. They launched in Singapore and now have expanded regionally from here. That’s how I see Singapore’s role and mission. It is not necessarily the biggest market since it has a limited consumer base, but if we can make it a springboard to the rest of Asia, it will be very interesting. Q. Shiseido opened its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore in January. How does this fit into the company’s vision to make Singapore a ‘window into Asia’? Making Singapore a ‘window into Asia’ is only possible if you have a regional base here. We used to be headquartered in Japan, and the Asia market was managed from Tokyo. However, as Asia comprises many countries, we need to decentralise the Japanese headquarters and get closer to Asian markets to better understand Asian consumers and accelerate the business in the future. We also intend to tap into the diversity of consumers in Singapore to have more consumer understanding and insights. To get our labs closer to this diversity, we are even looking at setting up research and development facilities in Singapore. Q. How does being closer to the target market help cosmetic companies better cater to their consumers? There is a sentence in our company that is now very trendy: think global, act local. This is not something new, but it’s a good slogan as we try to find a balance. We are a global brand with global imagery, but we also want to customise our brands such that they are better adapted to local consumers. When we look at our brands, they are designed to be sold primarily in Japan. So when we test some of them here in Singapore or in other regional markets, we have to learn to adapt the communications to the consumers. This extends to the type of products available as well. Some Japanese brands are focused on certain types of skin, but in Southeast Asia you don’t have the same climate or needs. We have to develop some products targeting these local needs instead of just bringing in products directly from Japan. By having stronger leadership closer to the market, we will be able to act locally and with more speed instead of only pushing out products from Japan. Q. What makes Singapore particularly suited as a regional hub for business? The advantage of Singapore is very clear. Geographically, we are closer to potential markets in Southeast Asia that we want to develop, including Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Being based in Singapore gives us proximity to these markets. The other benefit is human resources. Like many companies we want to use and develop local talent. Singapore is a country with a very high level of education and diversity, which is unique when compared to other countries. In Singapore, you have a unique blend of Western and Eastern talent, with people from different Asian countries working here as well.  When you talk about diversity, which is one of the keys to succeed in Asia, Singapore offers us the possibility to grow our talent pool. Of course, Singapore is also a great country in terms of infrastructure. It offers easy access to multiple countries via convenient airline connections, and it is easy to do business with. It is also an English-speaking country, which is rare in Asia. Q. What’s next for Shiseido in Singapore? We aim to build the Shiseido hub in Singapore into one that has regional influence. For instance, we‘ve just launched a new concept counter at Tangs Orchard – the first of its kind in Asia Pacific. The counter is targeted at younger consumers and is an interactive one that is more ‘open’, allowing consumers to access make-up and skincare easily. There is also a self-service vanity area for consumers to try out products they have picked out. We hope to experiment with and test this new concept counter in Singapore, fine tune the execution, and then roll it out in different markets. Ultimately, we are working towards creating a market in Singapore that is representative of Asia.